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School Board gives thumbs up to Second Step program, Wi-Fi on buses



The Warren County School Board during its Wednesday, February 2 regular meeting approved the restart of the Second Step Social-Emotional Learning curriculum for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) and gave a unanimous yes to accepting a grant to pay for Wi-Fi on school buses.

The Second Step program — which is sold by a nonprofit that holds the trademark for it — raised concerns last month from two School Board members who cited full access restrictions and some questionable content as reasons to temporarily stop the program to allow for further review. The board during its January 5 regular meeting unanimously agreed to do so.

WCPS purchases Second Step from the nonprofit Committee for Children, which holds the registered trademark for the program. The organization says Second Step programs are research-based, teacher-informed, and classroom-tested to promote the social-emotional development, safety, and well-being of children from early learning through Grade 8. The program is not utilized at the elementary school level in WCPS, and parents may opt-out their children from any guidance lessons.

Following the January 19 School Board work session in which WCPS staff explained the benefits and usage of Second Step in WCPS, the board’s majority voted 4-1 last night to reinstate Second Step. Present at the meeting and voting ‘aye’ were Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and members Antoinette Funk, and Andrea Lo. Board member Melanie Salins voted against continuing the Second Step program.

Lo pointed out that Second Step’s Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum helps provide students with relevant skills needed in the workforce, such as communication skills and teamwork, among others, and she thinks the board would be “doing them a disservice” by not offering the program.

Funk said WCPS has done a solid job in letting parents know what’s in the SEL curriculum and she urged parents “to be an active participant in their child’s education” by contacting teachers, counselors, and principals if they have any questions about the program or want to view its contents.

Pence called Second Step a “great program.”

Public comments

Numerous residents spoke in support of continuing the SEL program at WCPS during Wednesday’s public hearing section of the board’s meeting. A few people also wrote letters of support that were read into the public record.

“It saddens me that during a time when our children already face so many hardships and struggles, we are having to defend a program that helps offer students coping strategies, helps solidify school principles of kindness and accountability, reinforces problem-solving capabilities, empowers children to advocate for themselves and their peers, gives them confidence to stand up to bullying, and helps them learn coping strategies for everything from the loss of a loved one to fostering a growth-mindset in which they are not limited in what they can accomplish,” wrote Kate DeBord-Peter, who lives in the Fork District and has two children attending WCPS.

“Children need these services now more than ever,” DeBord-Peter wrote.

She also expressed concerns voiced by many who attended the board meeting in person about the School Board allowing a few people to manipulate them into making something controversial that isn’t, and several asked that board members keep politics out of future meetings.

For instance, Second Step supporters Ingrid Chenoweth, clergy at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and a teacher at the WCPS Blue Ridge Technical Center, and North River District resident Angie Robinson were two of several speakers who denounced the political undertones of recent School Board meetings.

Instead, they said, the School Board should support the professionalism and expertise of WCPS teachers, counselors, and administrators, who can be trusted to pick the most appropriate, relevant, and beneficial curriculum for students.

Rev. Christine McMillin-Goodwin of Front Royal, who is pastor at the First Baptist Church, also pointed out that when school board members fight and teachers don’t feel supported because of increased political haggling, the situation “is not good for our students.”

While no one said their names out loud during the meeting, speakers likely were referring to the perceived politics they heard in comments made by Board Vice Chair Rinaldi and board member Melanie Salins.

Rinaldi, for instance, said during the January 5 School Board meeting that when he reviewed a Second Step video, he wondered “is there a possibility that some teachers can interweave the critical race theories idea?” On Wednesday, Rinaldi said he saw a couple of things in his review of the program “that could be taken the wrong way,” but he said he trusts WCPS guidance counselors and teachers to use “teacher commonsense.”

Salins — the single ‘nay’ vote on Wednesday night against continuing Second Step in WCPS — said Warren County residents still do not have full access to the digital 2020-2021 version of Second Step. She said that a parent log-in to the Second Step website only allows someone to view half of what is available to WCPS staff and School Board members.

“The issue at hand here isn’t the lessons,” said Salins about Second Step. “The issue at hand here is true, informed consent. And parents cannot consent to what they do not have full access to.” Parents just want a log-in and a password, but WCPS “still refuses to give them access to the curriculum so that they can read it and know what their children are going to be learning,” she added.

Both WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger and fellow board member Funk told Salins that Second Step is owned by a nonprofit that doesn’t allow full access of trademarked material and that WCPS is bound by its legal purchase agreement to adhere to such trademark rules. And while WCPS and School Board members do have access, if anyone else has questions or wants to view lessons or other supplementary materials, they may contact their child’s school for information on doing so.

Ballenger also said that parents and community members were able to access the teacher resources used at each school and that schools that had digital access to the supplemental materials also provided a parent access code to families and community members to review the materials at home. Parents were also provided opt-out forms at each site and can request an opt-out form from their child’s principals if they choose not to have their child participate in any of the supplemental programs offered at their child’s school.

While Salins said the issue wasn’t with the Second Step lessons, she said: “I take serious issue with the Second Step bullying curriculum,” which she said depicts bullies as being privileged based on their economic standing, race, and gender. Salins said such a perspective differs from what she learned growing up and from what she teaches her own children.

Also on Wednesday, Salins commented on “the beauty of parental choice,” a political platform that she called “the hot topic of our time.”

“Parents are feeling pushed out and are literally locked out of their schools right now,” Salins said.

There were some speakers present who asked Warren County School Board members to provide more time for residents to review the Second Step SEL program.

For instance, Tom McFadden, Sr., of Front Royal said he and other members of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church formed a study group to review the program, but then learned that public access was not possible after talking to Ballenger. The group would still like more time to review the curriculum if that changes, he said.

In all, more than a dozen speakers participated in the public hearing, which lasted about half an hour.

Buses with Wi-Fi

Among other actions taken on Wednesday night, the board unanimously voted to allow WCPS to accept a $140,476 grant from the Emergency Connectivity Funds to purchase equipment to install Wi-Fi on the division’s school buses.

With the grant funds, WCPS will purchase mobile Wi-Fi equipment from SHI International Corp. that will be installed on all school buses by the WCPS Transportation Department, according to WCPS Technology Director Tim Grant.

Watch the Warren County School Board’s February 2 meeting in its entirety.


Updates approved for Warren County Public Schools’ pandemic mitigation plan

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WATCH: Christmas Parade 2022



If you missed the Christmas Parade or want to see it again, sit back and enjoy!

This year the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade was hosted by Mike McCool, Publisher of the Royal Examiner, and Niki Foster, Executive Director of the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce. Special thanks to Mark Williams, videographer, and the parade sponsor Lindsay Chevrolet.


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If it’s early December it must be time for Kiwanis’s Pancake Day Breakfast thru Lunch community fundraiser



The Kiwanis Club of Front Royal held its annual Pancake Day fundraising event at Warren County High School’s cafeteria from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, December 3rd. This event raises significant funds, which are put back directly into our community and our schools to help the children of Warren County. Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers dedicated to “changing the world One Child and One Community at a time.”

All proceeds from the event go right back into the community. Kiwanis thanks all those sponsors, members, and others who help make this event an annual community success.

We approach the WCHS front entrance. – But where are the pancakes and sides? A-Ha, a clue …

The Kiwanis Club Pancake Day food line has transitioned from breakfast to brunch and now lunch as the 1 p.m. closing time approached.

And on the way in and out of the WCHS cafeteria there were other options than food to contribute to the cause. – Royal Examiner Photos Roger Bianchini

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VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for December 5 – 9, 2022



The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.

*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.

No lane closures were reported.

Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Overnight left lane closures for equipment unloading and barrier installation, 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. through the night of December 15.

No lane closures were reported.

*NEW* Route 840 (Water Plant Road) – Flagger traffic control near I-81 for the I-81 overpass bridge inspection, Monday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Vegetation management may take place district-wide on various routes. Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution when traveling through work zones.

Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at

The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information about Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR- ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile-friendly website at Agents are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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Drive sober or get pulled over this holiday season, and every day



This holiday season, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is partnering with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office to share the message about the dangers of drunk driving. NHTSA and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office want all drivers to remember this lifesaving message: Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over. Drivers will see officers working together from December 16, 2022, through January 1, 2023, to take drunk drivers off the roads.

According to NHTSA, 11,654 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2020 that involved an alcohol-impaired driver. On average, more than 10,000 people were killed each year from 2016 to 2020, and one person was killed in a drunk driving crash every 45 minutes in 2020. Therefore, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office is working with NHTSA to remind drivers that drunk driving is illegal and a matter of life and death. As you head out to the holiday festivities, remember: Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.

Warren County Sheriff’s Office and NHTSA are reminding citizens of the many resources available to get them home safely. Drunk driving is not acceptable behavior. It is essential to plan a sober ride home before you ever leave for the party. There are too many resources to get you home safely. There are just no excuses for drunk driving.

Nationally, driving with a BAC of .08 or higher is illegal, except in Utah, where the limit is .05 g/dL. And the costs can be financial, too: If you’re caught drinking and driving, you could face jail time, lose your driver’s license and your vehicle, and pay up to $10,000 in attorney’s fees, fines, higher insurance rates, and lost wages.

  • Remember that it is never okay to drink and drive. Even if you’ve had only one alcoholic beverage, designate a sober driver, plan to use a ride service, or call a taxi or a sober friend to get home safely.
  • If you see a drunk driver on the road, contact the Warren County Sheriff’s Office at 540-635-4128.
  • Do you have a friend who is about to drink and drive? Take the keys away and make arrangements to get your friend home safely.

For more information about the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over enforcement period, visit

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Human remains found in Fairfax identified as missing Front Royal resident Kevin Smith



Last month, Front Royal Police Department detectives received information that the Fairfax County Police Department was working an investigation regarding the discovery of unidentified human remains in their jurisdiction. The remains, which were sent to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, underwent extensive DNA testing and forensic analysis. Based on the DNA testing, statistical analyses, and other facts and circumstances surrounding the case, it was determined that the remains were those of missing Front Royal resident Kevin Smith.

Photographs courtesy of the Smith family

Kevin was first reported missing on January 28th, 2020, after his parents had not seen or heard from him in about a week. Following the initial report, an extensive investigation and search was undertaken in a concerted effort to locate Kevin and bring him home safely. Numerous agencies and community members assisted with the investigation by offering specialized equipment, resources, and information related to Kevin’s disappearance. Despite everyone’s best efforts, Kevin remained missing until the discovery of his remains earlier this year.

We would like to extend our thanks to the public and community members who assisted with this investigation. We would also like to thank the Fairfax County Police Department, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and the Virginia Department of Forensic Science for their help locating and identifying Kevin’s remains. Chief Magalis added, “This is certainly not the outcome we had hoped for regarding the disappearance of Mr. Smith. We give our sincere condolences to the Smith family during this very difficult time.”

Anyone with any further information regarding this case is asked to contact Detective M.P Gallagher at (540)636-2208 or by email at

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Stephens City Church shelters homeless Nov 19-26 to support local WATTS week-long event



Stephens City UMC (SCUMC) hosted the Winchester Area Temporary Transitional Shelter (WATTS) during the week of November 19-26, 2022, including Thanksgiving Day. Altogether, nineteen churches will rotate the weekly assignment between November 5, 2022 and March 25, 2023. The people we serve (our guests) come from all walks of life and all levels of education. Some are newly homeless; others have been homeless most of their adult life. They are mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons. Many have mental health issues, especially PTSD, and substance abuse. But all need our love and care, and that is what we offer for 7 days. Our guests are fed, clothed, warmed, and kept safe.

The Church Fellowship Hall was set up with cots to serve as the WATTS overnight homeless shelter for one week at SCUMC. Courtesy Cindee Steele.

This undertaking could not be accomplished without MANY volunteers. There are seven dinners to prepare and serve, seven breakfasts served at 6:00 am, and daily grab-and-go lunches to offer. We also provide snacks and cold and hot drinks for when the guests are first received.

As the guests arrive, they are searched and go through an intake process. No outside food or drinks are allowed, and no vapes. Their weapons (usually knives) are collected before they get on the bus, kept in a locked box, and returned the next morning after they exit the bus. Medications are also kept in a locked box at the shelter and are available upon request. Then the guests are directed to their cot. The shelter is bare bones; each guest receives a hand towel, wash cloth, two sheets, a blanket, and a pillow. WATTS is a low-barrier shelter, which means we do not drug- or alcohol-test, we don’t ask for ID, and we don’t care if a guest arrives intoxicated, high, unkempt, or exhausted. All guests are treated equally and with respect and without judgement. WATTS has only five rules for guests and volunteers to follow:

  1. No smoking or vaping within the facility or bus and only in designated areas and times.
  2. No aggressive, violent, or threatening behavior or foul language.
  3. No alcohol or illegal substances are allowed in the facility or bus.
  4. No weapons are allowed in the facility or bus.
  5. Respect the guests, volunteers, staff, and facility.

Bible Study group preparing dinner the first night of WATTS. Courtesy Cindee Steele.

The maximum number of guests we can accommodate each night is 35. SCUMC was at or near capacity every night, with 6-7 women. A guest is guaranteed a bed if they were in the shelter the night before. People who are turned away are sometimes offered a blanket and/or a bag lunch and directed to other local resources. Unfortunately, two to ten guests are routinely turned away. And since WATTS is only for adults, families have very few resources available to them.

Once the guests have been through intake, they can relax and enjoy hot drinks and a variety of snacks. You can see the exhaustion and stress on their faces as they walk in the door, but the tense lines and guarded eyes slowly ease. Many go to the bathroom right away because they have not had access to one all day. Others lie down on their cot to rest after spending the day walking around town, trying to stay warm.

The clothing room, where WATTS guests could receive necessary items needed throughout the week. Courtesy Cindee Steele.

At about 7:30 pm, the rules are reiterated by the manager and then a prayer is said. We had some amazing prayers spoken by the guests!

Then it is dinner time! Some of the meals served to the guests included meatloaf, open-faced turkey sandwiches, fried chicken, lasagna, baked chicken, chili, vegetable soup, and pulled pork and chicken BBQ sandwiches. First Presbyterian Church of Winchester delivered turkey dinners on Thanksgiving Day.

This year we offered a Clothing Room in Room 102. We had coats, sweaters, underwear, socks, boots, jeans, and other clothing for men and women. What the guests did not take will be donated to Congregational Community Action Project (C-CAP) in Winchester, except for some coats and leftover snacks and sandwiches I took to the Warming Shelter, located at Market Street UMC at 131 S. Cameron Street in Winchester. They always need donations, especially drinks, lunches, fruit, and other snacks. The Warming Shelter is open 7 am to 6 pm Monday through Saturday except Thursday when it closes at 4:30 pm and Sunday 12 pm to 6 pm.

Volunteers serving Thanksgiving Dinner. Courtesy Deborah Phillips.

A huge thank you to all the groups that volunteered. The list includes the Clawson’s Bible Study group, United Women in Faith, the Koinonia Sunday School class, the Caring Outreach Group, and the Stephens City Preschool from SCUMC. Groups that partnered with SCUMC included the Stephens City Mennonite Church, Grace and Mercy Ministries, Grace UMC in Middletown, and Shenandoah University Cross-Country team.

Some individuals who helped tremendously include Diane Clawson (volunteer co-lead); Dee and Steve Morris; Donna Steward; Lisa Gillman; Carole Baker; Galen and Sandi Snider; Laura Fieo; Gary, Missy, and Cindee Steele; Scott and Valerie Taylor; Linda and Rick Taliaferro; Bill and Lorraine Orndorff; and Pastor Bertina Westley. There were many other volunteers who served and I apologize if I didn’t mention you.

United Women of Faith support WATTS week. Courtesy Deborah Phillips.

WATTS operates year-round, even when the Night Shelter is not open. Transition Support Specialists (TSS) assist the guests in obtaining IDs, Social Security, job applications, forms for Centralized Housing Intake, and apartments, applying for Medicaid, Medicare, and SNAP benefits, and information and placement in drug and alcohol detox/rehabilitation programs. TSS also check on guests who now live in apartments, motels, or nursing homes. TSS take guests to doctor appointments, dialysis, chemotherapy treatments, and other essential appointments.

I would like to thank the community for providing me the opportunity to work with this very necessary mission. And thank you to the church congregations and civic organizations for supporting WATTS!

If you would to know more about the WATTS mission, shelter locations and schedules, or how to donate, visit the web site at

Article by Deborah Phillips

Deborah Phillips is one of the Co-Leader Volunteers of the SCUMC week-long WATTS event and serves as Secretary, Board of Directors for WATTS. Phillips has a MS in Medical Microbiology and Immunology. She worked in research labs for over 15 years, including at the CDC, Emory University, and Indiana University and as a Medical Editor for over 20 years before retirement. Phillips currently owns two businesses. She creates memory art from heirlooms as Heartsong Hill Designs ( She also owns a hobby farm with chickens, goats, and rescue dogs. Her second business, Heartsong Hill Hungry Goats, ( employs her goats to offer a natural and chemical-free way to clear land.

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Thank You to our Local Business Participants:


Aders Insurance Agency, Inc (State Farm)

Aire Serv Heating and Air Conditioning

Apple Dumpling Learning Center

Apple House

Auto Care Clinic

Avery-Hess Realty, Marilyn King

Beaver Tree Services

Blake and Co. Hair Spa

Blue Ridge Arts Council

Blue Ridge Education

BNI Shenandoah Valley

C&C's Ice Cream Shop

Card My Yard

CBM Mortgage, Michelle Napier

Christine Binnix - McEnearney Associates

Code Ninjas Front Royal

Cool Techs Heating and Air

Down Home Comfort Bakery

Downtown Market

Dusty's Country Store

Edward Jones-Bret Hrbek

Explore Art & Clay

Family Preservation Services

First Baptist Church

Front Royal Women's Resource Center

Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce

G&M Auto Sales Inc

Garcia & Gavino Family Bakery

Gourmet Delights Gifts & Framing

Green to Ground Electrical

Groups Recover Together

House of Hope

I Want Candy

I'm Just Me Movement

Jen Avery, REALTOR & Jenspiration, LLC

Key Move Properties, LLC

KW Solutions

Legal Services Plans of Northern Shenendoah

Main Street Travel

Makeover Marketing Systems

Marlow Automotive Group

Mary Carnahan Graphic Design

Merchants on Main Street

Mountain Trails

Mountain View Music

National Media Services

No Doubt Accounting

Northwestern Community Services Board

Ole Timers Antiques

Penny Lane Hair Co.

Philip Vaught Real Estate Management

Phoenix Project

Reaching Out Now

Rotary Club of Warren County

Royal Blends Nutrition

Royal Cinemas

Royal Examiner

Royal Family Bowling Center

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Oak Computers

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Spice

Ruby Yoga

Salvation Army

Samuels Public Library

SaVida Health

Skyline Insurance

St. Luke Community Clinic

Strites Doughnuts

Studio Verde

The Institute for Association & Nonprofit Research

The Studio-A Place for Learning

The Valley Today - The River 95.3

The Vine and Leaf

Valley Chorale

Warren Charge (Bennett's Chapel, Limeton, Asbury)

Warren Coalition

Warren County Democratic Committee

Warren County Department of Social Services

Warren County DSS Job Development

Warrior Psychotherapy Services, PLLC

WCPS Work-Based Learning

What Matters & Beth Medved Waller, Inc Real Estate

White Picket Fence

Woodward House on Manor Grade

King Cartoons

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